At $40 million, Bush inaugural is a wry comment on the Iraq WarThe shakedown is a fixture of Washington, D.C. Thus we barely notice that President Bush's inauguration has become a wholly-owned subsidiary of several of the nation's biggest corporations. According to the Associated Press, new underwriters (paying $250,000) include AT&T; Bank of America; the pharmaceutical manufacturer Bristol-Myers Squibb, the energy company Cinergy and United Parcel Service.

Implicit in a shakedown is the notion of reciprocity. Those who give will get. It's a variant on the concept of protection money.

The gigantic festival, costing $40 million and funded by payola, is remarkable this time because America is at war. As The New York Times has suggested, "Ordinary citizens might have hoped that the overriding issue in Washington - the perilous Iraq war, with its drain on the nation's blood and treasure - would dictate restraint." As it happens, there was an element of restraint, when the president's solicitors capped their requests at $250,000.

President Bush's inauguration isn't about ordinary citizens. It is about the wealthiest among us.

Bush loyalists will say the same game was played during the Clinton years, and there is truth to that. Washington over the past few decades has become a place apart from the nation, a sort of theme park with elements of American history, to which the public has access, and a country club side to which the voting, tax-paying public has little or no access.

During World War II, President Franklin Roosevelt muted his inaugural festivities in recognition of what Americans were sacrificing. Some semblance of that recognition would have been appropriate in 2005.

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